There are several components to an effective workout; a general warm-up, workout brief (if you are in a coached session), a more specific warm-up, the working components of the session, and the cool-down. All components are essential. However, most attention is often placed on the former parts of the session. In many instances, only one part of the session (the conditioning piece) is referred to as ‘the workout!’ The workout is everything that goes into that one-hour session, including the cool-down.
Cooling down is as important for your health and fitness as warming-up is.
Why is Cooling Down Important?
Flush the System
Training results in the accumulation of metabolic waste products. Cooling down properly flushes these products out of the body’s fluids, allowing recovery processes to run smoothly.
Restore Breathing and Heart Rates
While warming up gradually increases your breathing and heart rates, cooling down is required to slowly return these rates closer to resting levels. This helps to prevent any light headedness or feelings of faintness. It also informs the nervous system that training is over.
Nervous System Recovery
Training stimulates the sympathetic division of the nervous system. This is the body’s innate fight or flight system. Without a cool down this system remains stimulated, thereby delaying the recovery process. Cooling down inhibits the sympathetic division and stimulates the parasympathetic division. That system slows the heart rate and returns blood to the organs after it was shunted to working muscles during training.
Muscle and soft tissue is warm and most pliable after training, making it one of the best times to engage in myofascial release. While you cannot avoid some level of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after training, myofascial release post-training may reduce the effects of DOMS.
What to Do?
Cyclic cardio movements, such as running, rowing, cycling, swimming, etc. are appropriate here. This is what flushes metabolic waste products from the muscles. In general, the shorter and more intense a workout, the longer this activity should be. Engage in this activity immediately after your working component. For example, head straight out for a walk or jog instead of falling to the ground.
Flexibility / Mobility
Any static stretching or myofascial release methods may be implemented here, and it doesn’t need to be just about the areas that were worked in that session. You could release common problem areas or prepare for the next day’s movements. Tip: Pick one to two things to focus on everyday as opposed to trying to work on the entire body. Focused, quality and consistent work is the winner.
Care about your health AND performance. Care about your body AND mind.